Little doesn’t only mean small; it can also mean servant
Do you know any little people? I am not talking about short people. I am talking about people who have a servant mentality. Little is a spiritual term for those who live out the gospel challenge to lay down our life for another.
What I am noticing is that there are people all around us who live this lifestyle. They are humble folks who give away their lives. Blessed Charles de Foucauld puts it this way: “Jesus attaches salvation to humility, to the act of making yourself little. That is all it takes to win heaven.” Jesus thinks of it as a quality we find in children.
The catch is that most of us spend our lives making ourselves bigger not smaller. We want to be noticed, acclaimed, the center of attention. We want to climb up that ladder of success and be great and powerful. Jesus is teaching something else: Being little is good. Being little is what it is all about. Being little is our goal.
The little people surround us. The problem is that being little means not wanting to be noticed. Little people try to live a quiet and determined gospel life without drawing attention to themselves. Usually we miss their movement because we are too busy being big people!
Over the past few weeks, I have been watching for little people so that I could get an idea of how to become one. It got me thinking about little people in my past: the mom who had her family convinced that she loved the chicken necks at family fried chicken dinners when in reality she ate them so that others could have the better pieces, the hardworking lawyer who always signed up for late night Eucharistic Adoration so others could sleep, the young college student who brings in garbage cans and shovels snow for his elderly neighbor.
My research has discovered the following characteristics of little people:
They are cleaner uppers. Without being asked, they roll up their sleeves and clean up the mess we big people have made. They do dishes after the Thanksgiving meal, sweep up the parish hall after the Mardi Gras fundraiser, get the programs out of the pews after the funeral. When we just walk out the door without a thought to what we left behind, they notice the forgotten work that remains. They figure other people are tired from their efforts and this is the least they can do.
They give away more than they keep. They will literally give us the shirts off their backs. They pay the bills of people who need help. They invite lonely or hungry people to supper. They empty their homes and bank accounts to provide for others without a worry, believing God will supply their need. They choose to intentionally have little. And they never hoard.
They sit at the unpopular table on purpose. They are more comfortable with the marginal and the ones no one likes to be near. They sit there because they see the outsider as a beautiful soul and beloved of God. The little ones avoid the table full of big people who want to be noticed. They visit the sick with no regard for catching their illness. They change diapers, clean dirty bathrooms, sit with old dementia patients. They never consider their own comfort.
They sit in the back and give up their seat when needed. They wait until everyone else has a good seat before they sit down. They don’t mind standing. Little people usually take the seats in the cathedral behind the column so others can see the sanctuary. No matter where little people go, they take literally Jesus’ words that disciples should always sit in the back and wait to be called forward.
They use things until they wear out. They drive their economy cars until they die. They never have more than one pair of sneakers, winter coat, coffee pot, etc. They believe that less is more. Too much stuff requires too much maintenance and makes it more difficult to hear the voice of God.
They don’t talk just to be heard. Little people are silent. They see their words as precious and only speak when their words will do some good. Yet, they are the first ones to speak up for justice and fair play. They have no qualms admonishing the sinner, upholding the victim or the down trodden. They love to bless and compliment those who could use a little praise. They are known to speak for God.
Are you getting the picture? There are little people all around us. Perhaps it is time we join them.
Jeanne Hunt is a nationally recognized author and catechetical leader.
This Catholic Thoughts column by Jeanne Hunt originally appeared in the November 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.